NATO experiences Swede relief as Hungary votes to allow Sweden to join alliance

Sweden is the defensive bloc's 32nd member.

Tan Min-Wei | February 27, 2024, 04:38 PM

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Sweden will become the 32nd member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) after a vote of approval from Hungary's parliament on Feb. 26.

Neutrality’s end

For the entirety of the Cold War, Sweden and Finland steadfastly resisted joining the alliance, preferring to maintain a neutral stance between East and West Europe.

Sweden had maintained its own neutrality for over two hundred years, throughout both World Wars and the Cold War.

But with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on Feb. 24 2022, both countries determined that conditions had changed, requiring them to seek membership of the defensive bloc.

Both applied to join NATO together in May 2022, but were unable to secure membership at the same time, with Finland joining in April 2023.

Both Finland and Sweden faced some resistance, but it was Sweden’s membership that was more stridently held back by both Turkey and Hungary.

Turkey’s reluctance was due to a number of factors, including Sweden giving refugee status to Kurdish individuals that Turkey considered terrorists.

After several rounds of negotiations, both countries were able to come to an agreement, but not without disappointing Kurdish groups in Sweden.

Hungary opposition ends

Hungary’s reasons for opposing Swedish membership was less clear, as described by an article from the Guardian in January 2024.

Reasons given ranged from Swedish criticism of Hungarian democracy, but unlike Turkey, there had not been substantial negotiations between Hungary and Sweden over NATO membership.

One reason hinted at was due to the close relationship between Hungary and Russia, which was unique amongst NATO member states.

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, is said to be close to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, and on numerous occasions has been the stumbling block to providing more military aid from the European Union to Ukraine.

However, the BBC reported that Orban recently met with Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson, saying that he supported Swedish membership of NATO after that meeting.

Hungary's parliament voted to support Swedish membership a week later on Feb. 26, by a margin of 188 to six.

However, Orban continued to criticise other NATO countries for allegedly pressuring his government, saying that other countries were dictating to it on the “content or timing” of its decisions.

Sweden’s ascension to NATO is now expected to be a formality, with a flag-raising ceremony to be held later this week.

Aid woes

Sweden's membership of NATO just after the second year anniversary of Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine, although it should be noted that the two countries have been fighting since 2014, and large portions of Eastern Ukraine have been held by Russia since 2015.

It appears Russia has failed to achieve any of its main objectives in its invasion, having failed to take the capital of Kyiv, and been pushed back from the north eastern regions of Ukraine.

However, a planned counter offensive in the summer of 2023 by the Ukrainian military appears to have made little headway, with the front line currently being described as a stalemate.

Some progress has been made by the Russian military in the town of Adviika, which recently fell after being contested for the better part of a year, and at the cost of tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of military vehicles.

Ukraine has consistently warned that the fight against Russian invasion is critically hampered by the lack of funding from Western nations, with its main source of military assistance, the United States, seeing further military aid halted due to domestic political infighting.

The European Union is attempting to step up, having promised a substantial amount of war aid independent of the United States, although getting an agreement amongst the European Union has proven challenging, in no small part due to the reluctance of countries like Hungary to approve such aid.

Enlargement issues

One of Russia's stated reasons for invading Ukraine was to prevent it from eventually joining NATO, supposedly in a bid to prevent the bloc’s expansion eastward.

Finland, and now Sweden's, membership of NATO appears to be yet another aspect of the 2022 invasion that has not worked out according to plan.

With the two countries joining NATO, Russia will have NATO aligned nations along the entire edge of its Western border.

According to Politico, Kristersson said that it was a historic day, when the parliaments of all NATO member states have now voted in favour of Swedish accession to NATO, adding that Sweden stood ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro Atlantic security.

Sweden's membership was welcomed both by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and German chancellor Olaf Schultz.

Both men agreed that all NATO countries would benefit from Sweden's membership, with Stoltenberg saying Sweden's membership will “make us all stronger and safer”.

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Top image via NATO/Facebook